As many Russian spies in UK today as in Cold War: Soviet defector

March 14, 2013

Oleg Gordievsky
The Soviet KGB’s former station chief in London, who defected to the United Kingdom in the 1980s, has alleged that Russia operates as many spies in Britain today as it did during the Cold War. Oleg Gordievsky, 74, a fluent speaker of Russian, German, Swedish, Danish, and English, entered the Soviet KGB in 1963. He eventually joined the organization’s Second Directorate, which was responsible for coordinating the activities of Soviet ‘illegals’, that is, intelligence officers operating abroad without official diplomatic cover. Gordievsky’s faith in the Soviet system was irreparably damaged in 1968, when Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia. In 1974, while stationed in Copenhagen, Denmark, he made contact with British intelligence and began his career as a double agent for the UK. In 1985, when he was the KGB’s station chief at the Soviet embassy in London, he was summoned back to Moscow by an increasingly suspicious KGB. He was aggressively interrogated but managed to make contact with British intelligence and was eventually smuggled out of Russia via Finland, riding in the trunk of a British diplomatic vehicle. In 2007, Gordievsky was awarded the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (CMG) by the Queen “for services to the security of the UK”. Russia, however, considers Gordievsky a traitor and the government of Vladimir Putin refuses to rescind a death sentence given to him in absentia by a Soviet court. In an interview with The Guardian newspaper this week, Gordievsky said London is currently home to 37 officers of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), one of the successor agencies to the KGB. Hinting at sources inside British intelligence, the Soviet defector said that the Russian embassy in London housed another 14 officers of Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), Russia’s primary military intelligence organization. He added that the number of accredited intelligence officers operating under diplomatic cover did not include members of an extensive network of informers, who are periodically employed by Russian government operatives. Gordievsky told The Guardian that, in addition to traditional political intelligence on the UK, Russian spies are after “sensitive commercial information”, and are also tasked with monitoring the activities of the Russian expatriate community in the UK, which includes several former oligarchs and critics of the Kremlin.

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10 tips to protect your privacy on Facebook

March 13, 2013


How to protect your personal information, status or pictures on Facebook?
At a time when the 26 million Facebook users are worried about being the victim to the bug that may reveal their personnal messages, here’s a short guide to properly protect your privacy on the social network.

Filter you personal information upon registration

  • Upon registration, Facebook is picky and demands a lot of accurate data. As a reminder, however, only the name, email address, date of birth and gender are required.
  • Subsequently, the social network will require more information – employment, education, place of residence, relationship status, religion, political opinion, etc.. – but all these are optional to use the social platform. However, if the user decides to enter these informations, it is possible to restrict their visibility
  • On your “About” page, for each category select “edit”, then right-click on the logo. Then choose whether to make the information “public”, accessible only to “friends” or “Private”, thus restricting their visibility to a particualr group of “friends”.

Monitor the published status

When updating your status, it is important to verify who can access these information and who can’t. Click on the logo at the bottom of sharing dialog box, and select whether to make the message “Public” or “Private”. Note that, you can modify the privacy settings of status that have been already published.

Monitor your “Likes”

  • Introduced in early 2009, the “Like” button is one of the real successes of Facebook. However, with time, the “interests” stacks up and say a lot about you. *Through your profile page, you can view all of your “I like”.
  • To hide your interest to some people, simply select “edit” then for each category to select the sharing type.

Monitor your photos

  • For each photo published, it is possible to choose its visibility. When publishing, you must click on the logo below to share box and choose to “public” or “Private”.
  • For photos already published, open the image and click “edit” and select the sharing type. The parameters of all the photos in the same album can be changed in one click.
  • If one of your friends identifies you on a photo, it is not possible to delete it. However, you can withdraw identification by clicking on “options” after opening the image. Incidentally, it is possible to report contacts in case of “harassment” oe “scam”…etc.
  • These tips equally apply to the videos.

Monitor your friends

It is possible to choose who shall have access access to your friends list. On the page listing your “friends”, select “edit” then next to “who can see your friends list” set the sharing type.

Monitor comments from your friends

Your friends like to talk about you on Facebook? You can limit the damage. In the “Privacy Settings”, choose “Change settings” and choose who can post on your wall and who can see the publications.

Monitor your friends lists

To facilitates the use sharing settings, it is possible to create “friend lists”.

  • Optionally, you can use predefined lists available on Facebook (close friends, acquaintances, family …etc) or create your own lists (via the “create a list” button).

Monitor friend requests

  • You can become (almost) invisible on Facebook. Go to the “Privacy Settings” > “Applications and Websites”.
  • Click on the Edit button next to “Public Search” and choose your settings.

Monitor geolocation features

Facebook allows mobile users to geotag their messages and photos.

  • These informations are pinned on a world map, accessible from the profile page.
  • If you don’t want to be geotagged when making a post /updating a status, make sure that pin icon next to it does not show your position.

Monitor third-party applications

Some Facebook applications won’t hesitate to publish constantly updates of your status.

  • In the “Privacy Settings”, go to “applications and websites”.
  • A list of all third-party applications that have already been linked to your Facebook account shall be displayed.
  • From there you can edit the settings for your application individually.

Intelligence News YOU may have missed…..

March 12, 2013

Ben Zygier
►►Australian Mossad officer was facing 20 years in prison. Mossad operative Ben Zygier was facing 20 years in prison on “serious espionage” charges when he hanged himself in an Israeli prison, suggests a report published Wednesday by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The report is the first confirmation of the nature of Zygier’s indictment. Under Israeli criminal law, the only security-related crimes that carry a 20-year prison sentence fall under the heading of “serious espionage”.
►►MS-13 smuggles missile launchers and teams up with Zetas. Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, became El Salvador’s deadliest gang through force of numbers and the power of the handgun. Now if they weren’t deadly enough, the gang is transitioning into adopting heavier weapons while teaming up with Mexico’s Zetas. But according to a recent report, the gang is moving “away from a dependence on handguns via the acquisition of automatic rifles such as AK-47s, along with grenades, rocket propelled grenade launchers, and Light Anti-Tank Weapons”, or LAWs.
►►Secretive US anti-smuggling program marks one-year anniversary. A nascent and somewhat secretive US government anti-smuggling program is marking its first anniversary this week. It is called E2C2, shorthand for Export Enforcement Coordination Center, and 18 law enforcement and intelligence agencies use it to find links between their targets and other investigations. The E2C2 was created by presidential order in 2010, but the collaboration has evolved slowly. According to a Government Accountability Office report, the E2C2 opened nine months late, in part because of “some difficultly” between agencies over how the center would operate.

Syrian government accuses Israel of planting spy devices

March 12, 2013

Alleged spy device found in Syria
News media affiliated with the government of Syria accused Israel on Thursday of planting a number of spy devices disguised as rocks, which were found located near “sensitive sites” in the country. The government-owned Syrian Arab News Agency, which published photographs of the alleged spy devices, said they were discovered “in the past few days” at an unspecified region on Syria’s Mediterranean coast. Later on the same day, video footage of the devices was aired on Syrian state television. The video footage and photographs show what appear to be large-sized faux rocks. Nestled in their hollow interior are cameras, microphones, transmission devices, as well as large batteries. Syrian media reports said that the transmission gear enabled the devices to broadcast audio and video signals in real time. The camouflaged contraptions closely resemble a number of “mystery devices” found on mountain ranges around the Lebanese capital Beirut in 2010 and 2011. The electronic devices found in Lebanon were hidden under two fake boulders and consisted of surveillance cameras, electronic transmitters, as well as satellite signal reception systems. One of the devices was even connected to a third fake boulder containing long-lasting batteries, which powered the surveillance system. The devices, which were discovered by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, displayed manufacturing labels bearing writing in Hebrew and in English, which included the name of a company called “Beam Systems Israel Ltd”. Syrian media expressed certainty that the camouflaged devices belonged to the Israeli intelligence services and accused Israel of meddling in the internal affairs of Syria in support of the rebel forces fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But Yigal Palmor, spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, told the Reuters news agency that Israel “will not be dragged into the Syrian civil war” and refused to comment on the specific allegations concerning the alleged spy devices. A spokeswoman for the Israel Defense Forces told Reuters that the Israeli military was “checking the reports” from Syria, but refused to comment further on the matter.

Spy claims against diplomat cast shadow over Anglo-Russian relations

March 12, 2013

Denis Keefe
Widespread allegations of espionage against Britain’s deputy ambassador to Russia threaten to derail the ongoing diplomatic rapprochement between Russia and the United Kingdom, according to a leading British newspaper. Painstaking efforts to rebuild Anglo-Russian relations, which crumbled after the 2006 assassination of Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko in London, are scheduled to culminate later this week, when senior Russian cabinet officials will be visiting London for a “strategic dialogue” with their British counterparts. But British newspaper The Sunday Telegraph reports that Whitehall is increasingly annoyed by persistent attacks in the Russian media against Denis Keefe, the UK’s deputy ambassador to Moscow. Keefe, a career diplomat with over 30 years in the Foreign Office, much of it during the Cold War, is a Cambridge University graduate who speaks six languages, including fluent Russian. Prior to arriving in Moscow, he served as British ambassador to Georgia, where he was stationed during the 2008 Russia-Georgia war. Almost as soon as he arrived in Russia, Keefe found himself at the center of persistent allegations in the Russian media that he is “an undercover spy, with his diplomatic position serving as a smokescreen”. Several Russian news reports have indirectly accused him of contacting dissident groups inside Russia in an effort to undermine the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Telegraph, which published for the first time an account of the Russian media claims in the West, said that Russian reporters appear to hound Keefe every time he makes a public appearance in the country. In one recent instance, two journalists asked him whether he was “a spy for MI6”, Britain’s primary external intelligence agency, insisting that he give a “straightforward answer to this question”. Keefe reportedly responded that this was “not a serious question” and had “nothing to do” with him. A few days later, a television channel in Siberia, NTN-4, said that the British diplomat was an MI6 officer and questioned whether the Russian government should allow him free movement around the country. Speaking to The Telegraph, anonymous British diplomatic sources dismissed the allegations against Keefe as “ridiculous” and claimed that they were based on a “widely discredited” list of MI6 operatives posted online in 2005. They added that the allegations against the diplomat appeared “calculated to undermine him” and at the same time subvert efforts to improve Britain’s relations with Russia. Neither MI6 nor the Russian embassy in London responded to invitations to comment on the story.

British journalists worked for MI6 during the Cold War: investigation

March 7, 2013

George Blake
Numerous notable journalists working for some of Britain’s most prestigious publications routinely collaborated with British intelligence during the Cold War, according to a BBC investigation. In 1968, Soviet newspaper Izvestia published the contents of an alleged British government memorandum entitled “Liaison Between the BBC and SIS”. SIS, which stands for Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI6, is Britain’s foremost external intelligence agency. The paper, which was the official organ of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, claimed that the foreign correspondents of most leading British newspapers secretly collaborated with the British intelligence community. It also alleged that the BBC’s world radio service had agreed with MI6 to broadcast preselected sentences or songs at prearranged times. These signals were used by British intelligence officers to demonstrate to foreign recruits in the Eastern Bloc that they were operating on behalf of the UK. At the time, the BBC virulently rejected the Izvestia’s claims, calling them “black propaganda” aimed at distracting world opinion from the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops, which had taken place some months earlier. But an investigation aired this week by the BBC Radio 4’s investigative Document program suggests that the memo published by the Soviet newspaper was probably genuine. The program says it discovered a memorandum in the BBC’s archives, which laments the embarrassment caused to MI6 by the Soviet claims. The memorandum, dated April 24, 1969, describes MI6 as “our friends”. The BBC program, which is available to listen to here, discusses the Soviets’ claims that several notable British journalists were MI6 agents. They include Edward Crankshaw and David Astor of The Observer, Lord Hartwell and Roy Pawley of The Daily Telegraph, Lord Arran of The Daily Mail, Henry Brandon of The Sunday Times, and even Mark Arnold-Foster of the left-leaning Guardian newspaper. Leading veteran security and intelligence correspondent Phillip Knightley told Document that he would not be surprised if Izvestia’s claims turned out to be true. Another expert, Stephen Dorril, who has authored extensively on the history of MI6, told the program that he believed the memorandum was probably given to the Soviets by George Blake, an MI6 officer who spied for the USSR. Blake was later convicted to 42 years in prison, but managed to escape to Moscow in 1966, where he still lives today.

Hamas ‘found tracking devices’ inside weapons bound for Gaza

March 7, 2013

Rafah Border Crossing
The Palestinian militant group Hamas said on Sunday it refused to take possession of a shipment of missiles after its weapons experts discovered they contained a number of carefully hidden tracking devices. The Egyptian newspaper Al-Youm Al-Sabea, which reported the story, said it spoke to a source “closely affiliated with weapons smugglers” in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, who confirmed Hamas’ claim. According to Al-Youm, the weapons shipment consisted of 28 long-range missiles stolen from the arsenal of the Libyan armed forces during the uprising that led to the overthrow of Libya’s late leader, Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi. The shipment made its way across the border with Egypt and from there to the Sinai desert, before ending up at the Rafah Border Crossing, located between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. It was there that the missiles were inspected by a team from the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. The paper reported that one of the Hamas inspectors, a senior member of the al-Qassam Brigades, discovered a number of miniature tracking devices carefully concealed inside the missiles, which appeared to be active. Following the discovery, the Hamas team backed out of the purchase deal and abandoned the inspection site. Al-Youm also said that the Palestinian group has decided to terminate its contacts with a significant number of weapons smugglers operating in the Sinai, because of concerns that they may have been penetrated by Israeli and Egyptian intelligence. The source of the alleged tracking devices remains unknown, but Hamas operatives suspect that the Israel Defense Forces are behind the operation. Its purpose appears to have been to detect the routes through which weapons are smuggled into the Occupied Territories, as well as their secret storage sites once inside Gaza. The militant group issued a press release warning that “the incident will not go unpunished”. In another report, the Egyptian daily said Hamas has launched a new initiative aimed at exposing “Israeli spies” operating in Gaza. Hamas commander Colonel Mohammed Lafi told the paper on Sunday that the initiative would be the most comprehensive of its kind in recent years.

British government tries to block probe into ex-KGB officer’s murder

March 7, 2013

Alexander Litvinenko
The family of a Russian spy, who died of poisoning after defecting to Britain, has accused the British government of trying to cover up the affair in order to avoid embarrassing Russia. Alexander Litvinenko was an employee of the Soviet KGB and one of its successor organizations, the FSB, until 2000, when he defected with his family to the United Kingdom. He soon became widely known as a vocal critic of the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 2006, Litvinenko came down with radioactive poisoning soon after meeting a former KGB/FSB colleague, Andrey Lugovoy, at a London restaurant. He died in hospital three days later. A public inquest into Litvinenko’s murder had been scheduled for May, 2013. On Tuesday, however, it was revealed that the British government had filed a written petition to limit the information disclosed in the inquest. According to The London Times, British Foreign Secretary William Hague filed a Public Interest Immunity Certificate (PIIC), which, if allowed to stand, would limit the scope of the inquest on national security grounds. It is believed that the government wishes to block information linking Litvinenko to the Secret Intelligence Service —also known as MI6— Britain’s primary external spy agency. Last December, Ben Emmerson, the lawyer representing Litvinenko’s widow, claimed that the late Russian spy was a “registered and paid” agent of MI6 and Spanish intelligence at the time of his death. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, following news of the British government’s PIIC petition, Emmerson accused London of trying to play down the Litvinenko murder case in order to preserve its lucrative trade ties with Russia’s government-owned energy companies. In his words, “the British government, like the Russian government, is conspiring to get this inquest closed down in exchange for substantial trade interests which we know [British Prime Minister David] Cameron is pursuing”. The coroner in charge of the public inquest, Sir Robert Owen, told reporters on Tuesday that he was not at liberty to disclose the details of the British government’s PIIC request. He added that he would decide on Wednesday whether to accept the petition.

Venezuela expels US diplomats as Hugo Chávez is pronounced dead

March 7, 2013

Hugo Chavez
The government of Venezuela moved yesterday to expel two American diplomats from the country, shortly before officially pronouncing the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. The expulsions are seen by some as attempts to curtail communication between United States officials and the Venezuelan opposition in the aftermath of Chávez’s death. In a speech televised live on Venezuelan television on Tuesday, Vice President Nicolás Maduro said US Air Force attaché Colonel David Delmonaco, who was stationed at the American embassy in Venezuelan capital Caracas, would be expelled. “Mr. David Delmonaco has 24 hours to pick up his belongings and leave this country”, said Maduro, who is widely reputed to succeed Chávez. He added that the American attaché had been engaged in efforts “to destabilize the country”, but did not elaborate on the allegation. Shortly afterwards, Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs Elias Jaua told a press conference that a second US Air Force attaché, who remains unnamed, had been declared persona non grata and would be expelled from the country along with Delmonaco. Later on the same day, US government spokesman Colonel Todd Breasseale confirmed the diplomatic expulsions. He told journalists that the US was “aware of the allegations made by Venezuelan Vice President Maduro over state-run television in Caracas”, adding that he was in a position to confirm that “our Air Attache Colonel David Delmonaco, is en route back to the United States”. But the US Department of State said it “completely reject[ed] the Venezuelan government’s claim that the United States is involved in any type of conspiracy to destabilize the Venezuelan government”. Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell called Maduro’s allegations “absurd” and warned Caracas that Washington “has options of reciprocal action available to it under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations”. Later during the same speech, Vice President Maduro repeated an allegation initially made by Chávez himself in 2011 that United States intelligence agencies could be behind the rapid deterioration of his health. Maduro ended his fiercely combative speech by warning “foreign and domestic traitors” that “their day would come” before too long. The US embassy in Caracas said on its website that its consular section would remain closed on March 6.

Analysis: The Current State of the China-Taiwan Spy War

March 2, 2013

China and Taiwan
Last week I spoke about the current state of the espionage war between China and Taiwan with Tim Daiss, a Southeast Asia-based American journalist who has been covering the Asia-Pacific region for over a decade. Our discussion formed the basis of a comprehensive piece on the subject, published in British newspaper The Independent, in two parts (part one and part two). It told Daiss that the Ministry of State Security —China’s primary national intelligence agency— is not known for its technological prowess. However, the sheer size of Beijing’s intelligence apparatus is proving a good match for the more advanced automated systems used by its less populous regional rivals, including Taiwan. When it comes to traditional human intelligence, the Chinese have been known to employ time-tested methods such as sexual entrapment or blackmail, as was confirmed most recently in the case of Taiwanese Major-General Lo Hsien-che. Lo, who headed the Taiwanese military’s Office of Communications and Information, was convicted of sharing classified top-secret information with a female Chinese operative in her early 30s, who held an Australian passport. During his trial, which marked the culmination of Taiwan’s biggest spy scandal in over half a century, Lo admitted that the Chinese female spy “cajoled him with sex and money”. In addition to honey-trap techniques, Chinese spies collect intelligence by way of bribery, as do many of their foreign colleagues. In the case of China, however, a notable change in recent years has been the accumulation of unprecedented amounts of foreign currency, which make it easier for Chinese intelligence operatives to entice foreign assets, such as disgruntled or near-bankrupt state employees, to sell classified data.

In the case of Taiwan, China’s primary intelligence targets are weapons systems, especially those originating in the United States. The island-nation possesses export-versions of some of America’s most advanced weaponry, and it is far easier for Beijing to access such weapons in Taiwan than on US soil. Taiwan is both geographically and culturally familiar to Chinese intelligence operatives, who do not have to try too hard to blend into Taiwanese society. I told The Independent that, based on publicly available information about recent espionage cases, it would be safe to assume that Chinese intelligence has gained access to substantial classified information on some of Taiwan’s most advanced US-made defense systems. These include the Lockheed Martin/Raytheon-built Patriot missile defense system deployed on the island, as well as the Po Shen command and control system, which is designed to facilitate critical battlefield communications between Taiwan’s navy, army and air force.

I argue in the interview with the London-based paper that China’s success in penetrating Taiwan’s defense systems is having a significant impact on bilateral relations between Washington and Taipei. On the one hand, the United States is committed on preserving its alliance with Taiwan, for both geostrategic and symbolic purposes. But, on the other hand, American defense planners are weary of the damage caused to US military strategy by the exposure of some of Washington’s most coveted weapons systems to Chinese intelligence by way of Taiwan. As I told Daiss, while nobody at the US Pentagon or State Department would admit it publicly, “many in Washington are increasingly hesitant to supply Taiwan with sensitive military technology because they fear penetration by the Chinese”.

At the end of the interview, I cautioned that it would be a mistake to view the United States and Taiwan as simply passive receptors of Chinese intelligence activities. The increasing ease of travel and communication between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland in recent years has allowed Taiwan’s military and civilian intelligence agencies to collect far more intelligence on China than ever before. Their activities range from cyberespionage and offensive counterintelligence to sexual entrapment (some intelNews readers may recall the 2006 case of Tong Daning, an economist in China’s Social Security Department, who was executed in 2006 for sharing classified Chinese economic data with his mistress; she later turned out to have been a spy for Taipei).

Ultimately, however, it is near impossible for Taiwan to match the size of China’s spy network, even with American assistance. As Daiss writes, “twenty-four million versus 1.3 billion just doesn’t seem like a fair fight”. And, he adds, “how all of this will unfold as China and Taiwan continue to forge relations in the near future is anybody’s guess”.